Thursday, November 03, 2005

Objective... and very confusing

In case you missed it, an NYT article from yesterday dives into the problems created by the sheer number of different tests for varying age levels in diverse subjects. (I'm getting dizzy just thinking about it.)

From the NYT:

Take Florida, where 30 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading on this federal test in 2005. Yet on the Florida state test, 71 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading in 2005. It's a big difference: Are nearly three-quarters of your fourth graders proficient? Or less than a third? And it's typical.

On the 2005 federal test, 33 percent of New York's fourth graders were proficient in reading; on New York's 2005 state test, 70 percent were. In Tennessee, 27 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading on the federal test; 87.9 percent on the state test.

Nationwide, millions of students may or may not be proficient, depending on which test you favor.

What's more, basic trends on the two sets of tests are often contradictory. In Florida, the federal fourth-grade reading proficiency scores were down two percentage points between 2003 and 2005 (bad news); on the state test they were up 11 points (good news). In New York, on the federal test, fourth-grade reading proficiency was down one point; on the state test, up six points. In short, it's hard to answer the age-old question: Are fourth graders getting smarter or dumber?

"It's a problem," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. "It's a case of trying to compare apples and elephants."

So the dream of objective measures that would definitively tell us what was happening in schools really was a dream. That is, it's an illusion. Not reality. Surprise, surprise.

Some, like Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, say the states are making their tests too easy, to ensure they get high marks on the No Child Left Behind rating system. Some say the federal test's proficiency level is set too high. And Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the liberal group FairTest, says, "It shows these so-called objective measures are arbitrary, easily manipulated and profoundly political."

Couldn't have said it better myself.


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